Two men from south east London are set to appear in court over an alleged conspiracy to ship £44million worth of MDMA from the UK to Australia hidden in a digger.

Danny Brown, 53, of Bromley, and Peter Murray, 57, of Greenwich, were arrested along with two other men in London and two in Western Sydney when police seized more than 70st (450kg) of the class A drug that was being shipped over 10,300 miles from Southampton to Brisbane.

Australian Border Force officers found the hidden drugs when an X-ray revealed the anomalies in the heavy machinery last March 15.

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The arm - or boom as it is known - of the digger was allegedly lined with lead in a bid to mask the 226 packages of MDMA, that is also used to make party drug ecstasy, stashed inside.

After being emptied of the illicit load, the excavator was delivered to its intended recipient in Sydney to identify other suspects planning to pick up the excavator, police said.

National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators from the UK and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) discovered the alleged conspiracy in encrypted messages garnered as part of an investigation into the communication networks of criminal gangs.

Detectives said they uncovered the plan hatched by a London-based crime group to import drugs into the UK, then export the narcotics to Australian heavy plant machinery.

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Encrypted messages sent on EncroChat devices between January and June this year set out plans to buy the excavator in the UK along with hand-drawn illustrations of the concealment inside the arm, police said.

Officers also found details of the costs relating to the importation and confirmation that the machinery had been loaded onto a vessel in Southampton on January 24 and arrived in Brisbane seven weeks later, the NCA said.

The six men will appear in court ahead of trial on on April 16.

Two men aged 33 and 42 were also charged in Australia, the NCA said.